Previous studies in bipolar disorder suggest patients’ deficient performance in Theory of Mind tasks, both during manic or depressive episodes and in remission. However, most of the extant studies were cross-sectional and did not control for potential confounders such as residual symptoms or co-existent deficits in other cognitive functions. The present study is the first prospective study that assessed the effect of remission on Theory of Mind (ToM) in patients with Bipolar Disorder (BD) controlling for other cognitive deficits. ToM was assessed in 29 patients with BD type I during an episode of the illness and in remission as well as in 29 healthy controls. The two groups were pair-matched for gender, age and education level. Three tests with different levels of complexity were used to assess ToM: First Order False Belief Task, Hinting Task and Faux Pas Recognition Test. Concomitantly, a comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests was administered to all participants assessing general intelligence, working memory, attention, speed processing, verbal learning, and memory and executive functions. The Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, Young Mania Rating Scale, Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale, and GAF were also administered to the patients. Differences be- tween patients –in acute phase and in remission– and the control group on neuropsychological tests were tested using one-way ANOVA with post hoc Bonferroni corrections. The effect of other cognitive deficits on patients’ ToM dysfunction was controlled for using general linear models. The patients showed significantly lower performance in all ToM tests during the acute phases as compared to the control group (p values from 0.001 to 0.014). However, these impairments did not persist beyond acute mood episode, except patients’ poor performance on Faux Pas (p=0.001). Additionally, patients had poorer performance compared to control group in verbal learning and memory (p<0.001) as well as visuospatial working memory (p<0.001) during both the acute and the euthymic phases of the ill- ness. Patients also had poorer performance than healthy controls in immediate memory (p=0.026) and executive functions (p=0.001), however only during episodes of illness. Differences in Faux Pas did not remain statistically significant when the effect of verbal memory and visuospatial working memory was controlled for. Differences in other ToM tests during episodes did not remain statistically significant, when other cognitive functions that were found impaired in patients during episodes, were controlled for. The findings of this study support the hypothesis that ToM dysfunction in BD is associated with mood symptoms and it might reflect underlying cognitive deficits rather than representing a specific trait marker of the disorder.

Key words: Theory of Mind, social cognition, cognitive dysfunction, bipolar disorder, remission. 

N. Ioannidi, G. Konstantakopoulos, D. Sakkas, P. Oulis✝  (page 17) - Full article